The first person ever to receive a graduate degree from MIT — a master’s degree in chemistry — was Frederick Fox, Jr., of Portland, Maine. That was on a spring day in 1886, and in the years since then, the Institute has become a world leader in graduate education.
Now, more than 6,000 remarkable young scholars are pursuing advanced degrees here. These students are vital to MIT’s programs of research and teaching, and to the life of our campus. Extraordinary men and women, they will be the leading thinkers, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, and managers of tomorrow. All of them have the power to make the world a better place.
Graduate students play a tremendous role in the MIT research that generates new knowledge and transforms our lives. In virtually every field of study, these young people are sources of great ideas and insights.
Consider, for example, MIT graduate student David Berry, who has recently developed revolutionary approaches to treating stroke and cancer. Berry’s research showed that a designer protein, invented at MIT, limited brain damage if administered within 24 hours of a stroke. His research into heparin led to his creating a polymer-heparin conjugate, which can help with the treatment of cancer. And he also designed an approach that could lead to a “cancer Band-Aid” — a biomaterial to stop cancer cells from spreading and to remove cells that may have been missed during surgery.
Graduate students also make major contributions to undergraduate education. They often serve as teaching assistants. And they play an especially important role as mentors to students in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. About 80 percent of undergraduates participate in UROP during their years here, and much of their research takes place in lab teams overseen by graduate students.
In the past, graduate life often centered almost exclusively on research. Today, those longstanding patterns are evolving. While research remains — and must remain — central to graduate education, we now seek to offer students a richer and more fulfilling educational experience.
In 1998, MIT’s task force on student life and learning pointed out that we must educate students not only through academics and research but also through community. Now, thanks to the efforts of many people across campus, programs and events offer grad students new opportunities for the personal involvement and interaction that is an essential component of education. It has become easier for students and faculty to meet informally, to brainstorm, and to create interdisciplinary projects. And it is easier for students to learn teamwork and collaboration, to develop communication and leadership skills, and to think critically about social issues.
Graduate students often say they come to MIT because of our brilliant faculty. But if you ask MIT professors why they spend their careers here, they often say it is because of our exceptional students.
Our graduate students have high hopes, great ambitions, and remarkable talents. These young men and women will be the leaders of the next generation, and each has the spark, the spirit, and the extraordinary ability to serve and to change the world.